Cardboard Characters

If we're to believe the current hit movie Falling Down, white males are about to become unhinged and start blowing things up. White men not only can't jump, but in this movie we discover they also can't keep their cool in traffic jams. Shopkeepers won't give change for a phone call? White men might smash the store. Too late for the breakfast menu at McDonald's? They're liable to pull out a bazooka. Falling Down is the nerd version of Rambo. Movie critics have had a bonanza reading cultural messages into the film. Newsweek ran a flashy cover story treating it as an expression of "White Male Paranoia." What drives the main character to the edge, the review says, are Korean shopkeepers, gun-toting Hispanic gangs, homeless panhandlers. In the Newsweek version, the stereotypical white male—with his military crew cut and his polyester tie—is pitted against "a rainbow coalition" of minorities. But isn't that reading a bit too much into the film? After all, the main character rages at white folks as well: a construction worker, a neo-Nazi skinhead, a group of rich golfers. In fact, the film's hero is a white male cop, who ends up as a typical macho stereotype. No, the real problem with Falling Down is not that it picks on white males; it's that the film is populated entirely by stereotypes. From the fumbling computer nerd to the Korean grocer to the snooty rich golfers, nobody in this film is a real person. They're all one-dimensional symbols of a race or ethnic group. This is the multicultural version of America, where people are no longer valued as individuals bearing God's image. They're merely cardboard cutouts of a race, class, or gender group. As this multicultural vision takes hold, Americans are losing any sense of an overarching truth that binds us together in a common allegiance. And along with it, we're losing any basis for social discourse. Without a common framework of ideas, rational debate becomes impossible . . . and the only way to settle disputes is through power. Jon Levenson of Harvard Divinity School puts it well: In multiculturalism, he warns, "truth reduces to issues of power." For some folks, that could even be the power in the muzzle of a bazooka. This is the serious message in Falling Down. Western culture was once unified by social and civic principles derived from the Bible. Basic human rights—rights that transcend race and ethnic lines—were rooted in the biblical teaching of creation. "Endowed by the Creator," as the Declaration of Independence puts it. But today Americans are locked in a growing cultural isolation. We're told there's a white male perspective versus an African-American perspective versus a feminist perspective, and so on. The result is alienation and hostility between groups—exactly what is portrayed in Falling Down. I just hope nobody out there really thinks this is a problem for white guys only.


Chuck Colson


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